September 01, 2009

"If we knew what it was we were doing, it would not be called research, would it?" --Albert Einstein

When I sit down to write this column every week, sometimes the subject matter comes leaping out of the numbers Mighty Max churns on a daily basis: the trends materialize before my eyes, and it simply becomes a matter of my connecting the dots.

Sometimes, however, it's not that simple. The trends seem to disappear; the numbers lack a clear message. When I find myself in such a bind -- like this week -- I am reminded of Einstein's quote. Some of the best research comes from the diligent pursuit of ... well ... wacky ideas.

I've been looking for ways to make use of targeting statistics in our preseason rankings. Everybody knows about targets: it's the number of times a quarterback will attempt a pass to a particular receiver. Yet the use of targets seems to be primarily used in-season, typically to find waiver wire receivers who might act as bye week or injury replacements. But is there a way to make use of targets to help us identify players worth drafting?

Armed with my Einstein-inspired theory, I asked Mighty Max to produce a list of every player with at least 48 targets in 2008. Why 48? Because it seemed to me that an average of three looks a game seemed reasonable as a minimum.

Once Max had produced the list, I began to think of ways that I could add "quality" to the list; that is, how could I compare players with the same number of targets and determine who was likely to be productive in 2009? I thought about it for a while, and I decided to use first-down conversion rate as my differentiator. My thinking is that a receiver who has his QB's confidence to move the chains is the type of guy that I can take a late-round flyer on.

Finally, the last parameter I threw into the mix is that the targeted players are playing with the same QB in 2009 that they teamed with in 2008 (or else the whole "trust" factor becomes moot). As always, Max obliged:


The RB list has a lot of names that cannot be considered "sleepers", but there are three players that are likely to be late-round handcuffs: Mewelde Moore, Chester Taylor and Leon Washington. Makes you wonder if nabbing one of these runners just ahead of their being handcuffed is a winning strategy.


Looking at the wide receivers, I was really surprised to see that the most "trustworthy" WR was Vincent Jackson. In my mind, this is just another bit of information that solidifies him as a top WR2. Josh Reed might have been an interesting name to keep in mind, but the arrival of Terrell Owens in Buffalo removes him from consideration. The two names on this list that interest me are Devery Henderson and Michael Jenkins. The Saints have an explosive offense and it seems that a case can be made for having any of their top three receivers on your squad (Marques Colston, Lance Moore and Henderson), but Henderson is the one that's being ignored in most standard drafts. As Matt Ryan continues to mature in Atlanta, he'll start to look beyond Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez ... and Jenkins figures to see an increase in production.


Among the TEs, John Carlson and Zach Miller are youngsters coming off rookie seasons where they have already garnered the trust of their respective quarterbacks. Todd Heap is being written off by many fantasy owners, but it is clear that he is always in the back of Joe Flacco's mind when a big play is needed. Heap looks like an attractive TE2 prospect.

There you are, a brand new statistic to add to your draft day arsenal. When your buddies ask you where you got the idea to take Devery Henderson in the 16th round, just tell them it was Einstein.

You May Like